Cybersullying' and You

By Edwin C. Darden

Sometimes public school-related events serve as cultural markers. They shock the conscience, alter one’s view of the world, or constitute such a curiosity that media coverage spreads like wildfire and, from coast to coast, tongues wag tirelessly like the upstart tail of a jubilant puppy.

Such an episode arose in late 2008 when a North Carolina teacher engaged in “cybersullying” -- of herself. In this case, the term refers to electronically imploding one’s own good reputation in the community via spontaneous or downright silly online deeds.

Specifically, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school teacher maintained a personal Facebook page on the Internet. She used the social networking site to brand her Thomasboro Elementary School neighborhood as “ghetto,” explaining “I hate my students,” and telling the world: “I teach chitlins.” Making bad matters worse, elsewhere on the Facebook site the young woman posted pictures of herself wearing scant clothing and drinking. Result: Reputation goes bye-bye and job is in jeopardy.

Besides being a cultural marker, however, this incident also presents an opportunity for smart superintendents and board members to pause for thoughtful introspection. The reality of 21st century communication and the impulsivity of youth make an episode like this almost inevitable. The question becomes: What do you do about it?

For school districts, the answer is a policy that sets the boundaries of acceptable behavior -- serving as both a stern warning and a legal brickbat against employees who misplace rationality.

Facebook, with 90 million-plus members, is a growing influence, particularly for young teachers just graduating from college. Another social networking site, MySpace, has 106 million members, but primarily attracts a younger crowd. Often, publicly available pages serve as a scrapbook for personal pictures or a diary for personal thoughts. Such revelations can be unprofessional but basically harmless. Sometimes, though, the stream-of-consciousness nature exposes an immaturity that causes far wider doubts.

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